Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, January 23 through Friday, January 29, 2021 [Vol.2 No.28]
Biden’s First Ten Days
The Week’s Most Notable
The Biden side of things: Big cabinet changes, 42 executive orders, and the administration hits the ground running. It’s apparent that Biden’s team, the largest ever assembled for presidential transition, is unusually well schooled, experienced, and working from a thoroughly considered set of orders. As expected, changes are happening so fast that the Republicans have little ability to respond other than whining about “excessive use of executive orders.” (For the record, Lincoln issued 48 executive orders, FDR 3,721, Trump 220.) Of course, right-wing media are crying “catastrophe,” but that’s already an old tune even for their audiences. Biden has also launched a massive program to manage COVID-19, especially for vaccination. It’s had lots of PR, but unfortunately is saddled with a slow start from there having literally almost nothing put in place by the Trump administration. It will be a month or more before solid evidence of a plan at work will be visible. Soon, comes the legislation. That will be difficult to the point of ugly. First up, is the coronavirus relief bill, all $1.9 trillion of it. Biden must follow his campaign promise by reaching out to Republicans for support. Not being stupid or inexperienced, he and his folks know the current GOP is coalescing around a big gob of obstructionism. In the Senate, the Democrats almost certainly will have to fall back on budget reconciliation to get most elements of the bill passed. Eventually, the Democrats will have to face the issue of eliminating the filibuster, or not (maybe just changing some of the rules about it will be enough).
The GOP side of things: To what extent have QAnon and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) become the GOP? It seems like congressional GOPers are more than willing to let her and QAnon-style conspiracy theories stand-in for party policies. Does that include beliefs such as what she said in 2018, that the forest fires in California were caused by Jewish space lasers? It seems so; they even put her on the House education committee. The majority of Republicans are not going to renounce the Big Lie. They are not going to admit complicity in the Capitol riot. They’re not going to admit that any of this is anti-democratic or even against the Constitution. They are going to continue the Trump tradition of manufacturing outrageous statements and events for the purposes of distraction and media management. The key point: Most Republican voters have no problem with this approach. That and right-wing media (along with a few Trump threats) brought almost all the Republican strays back into the arms of Trump after 1/6.
The emerging story of the Capitol Riot grows darker almost by the day. On Tuesday, in a closed-door hearing with Congress, the acting chief of Capitol Police admitted “[We] should have been more prepared for this attack, we knew that there was a strong potential for violence, that Congress was the target.” This begs the questions: How and why did this happen? The questions beg for investigation, which is happening through Congress, the FBI, and other agencies. Important avenues of research have opened into funding for the riot, leadership and coordination, collusion with members of Congress and the White House, and the seriousness of right-wing militias. From the public perspective, this is making most everyone very uneasy. Are we facing a gaggle of dilettantes, who have no idea how real “revolution” functions and did not succeed in killing or capturing anybody politically relevant, or is this the beginning of an orchestrated sequence of events – including violence – leading to the kind of chaos that is the birthspace of authoritarianism?
Saturday, January 23
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 25,568,161; Deaths: 427,642
[Russia – Navalny] U.S. State Department Calls for Release of Navalny – What a difference a week and a new Secretary of State make; the U.S. now officially condemns the arrest of Russian protest leader Alexey Navalny and the incarceration of more than 3,000 demonstrators. In short, Biden is resuming the traditional U.S. opposition to Putin’s authoritarian regime.
[Arizona Government] Arizona GOP Censures its Top Leaders – As a measure of the pro-Trump GOP “eat their own” state of mind, the Arizona Republican Party censured Gov. Doug Ducey, former Sen. Jeff Flake, and Cindy McCain, the widow of John McCain, for failing in their support for Trump. This was part of a widespread state GOP led movement to punish their non-loyal party members.
Sunday, January 24
[Coronavirus] U.S. Exceeds 25 Million COVID-19 Cases and Heads for 450,000 Deaths – Biden calls for quick action on the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. Republicans wheel out the “Oh the!” argument, which had gotten very dusty during the four years of the Trump term. More significantly, Senate Republicans appear unwilling to negotiate any aspect of the bill, which will probably force the Democrats to use budget reconciliation to pass it.
[Netherlands – Riots] Dutch Anti-Lockdown Protests Turn Violent – In the worst violence since the pandemic began, several thousand protesters against the COVID-19 lockdown blocked major streets and resulted in hundreds of arrests. Apparently, the riots were not politically or ideologically motivated – although the Netherlands are facing a national election shortly – these riots seemed more like post sports game carousing and hooliganism.
Monday, January 25
[Coronavirus] Biden Increases Target for Vaccines to 1.5 Million per Day – Relative to his promise of 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days, the issue is not the mathematics, since 1.5 million would actually deliver 150 million vaccinations, but that the supply of the vaccines, their delivery, and the logistics of processing 100 million Americans in a little over three months is a daunting proposition. Most specialists say it is doable, but the turnaround from the previously inert Trump administration to a fully in-gear national system will be a wild ride.
[Elections 2020] DOJ Inspector General to Investigate Official Meddling with Election Results – The IG action stems from reports that Trump placed pressure on the DOJ to reverse election results in various states. Most of this centers on reports that Trump planned to replace the acting AG, Jeffrey Rosen, with his own stooge, Jeffrey Clark. This is complicated investigative territory; however, the significance is that such an investigation would probably never have happened under AG Barr.
[Biden Cabinet] Senate Approves Janet Yellen as Treasury Secretary – By a vote of 84-15, the Senate approved the first woman as Secretary of the Treasury and in all probability launched one of the most formidable members of Biden’s cabinet.
[Impeachment Trial 2021] House Delivers Article of Impeachment to Senate – With the delivery, the Senate has 24 hours to officially begin the trial, however, in a negotiated deal, the trial will not actually begin until February 9, presumably allowing both sides more time to prepare their cases.
Tuesday, January 26
[Coronavirus] CDC Calls for in-Person Schooling with Precautions – Citing studies indicating a low presence of coronavirus infection among children (those under 14 at least), the CDC said that the value of in-person education outweighed the relatively low risks. At the same time, it called for strict mitigation efforts such as masking, social distancing, and limiting indoor group activities.
[Impeachment Trial] Senate Republicans Fail to Block the Impeachment Trial – This headline could have many directions for spin; mainly however, the fact is that the 55-45 vote indicates Republicans have no taste for convicting Trump. At issue was whether the trial was constitutional or not; this will be the core if not the sole contention of Trump’s defense and the GOP rationalization. The contention will be that since Trump is out of office, convicting to remove him from office is “silly.” The counterargument is that following the Constitution it is legally necessary to convict Trump before going on to pass legislation that prevents him from ever running for office again. Unfortunately, this part of the argument is not widely mentioned by anyone from the political right wing/GOP.
[U.S. – Russia] Biden and Putin Have First Call and Extend Arms Treaty – Based on the read-out from the telephone call (the first such document in years), Biden admonished Putin over several U.S. issues, including the use of bounty for killing U.S. soldiers. The extension of the START treaty on nuclear arms control demonstrates a return to the tricky balancing act between disapproval of Russian behavior and the need for negotiating military conditions.
[Private Prisons] Biden Orders DOJ to Stop Using Private Prisons – Among the day’s four executive orders addressing racial justice, this one has far-reaching implications for the massive commercialization of U.S. prisons and the treatment of prisoners.
[Coronavirus] Biden Orders 200 Million Additional Vaccine Doses – Added to the existing orders of 400 million doses, it should be enough to vaccinate 300 million Americans – enough to achieve general herd immunity. This does not include the probability of doses from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which appears to be ready for FDA approval in February. Most of the newly ordered doses will not be available until early summer.
[State Department] Senate Confirms Blinken for Secretary of State – Antony Blinken has a gigantic restoration project ahead of him; not only does the State Department need a careful cleaning and fumigation of Trumpian desuetude, but it also provides the opportunity to clean out decades of moribund protocols from the last century. Meanwhile, the role of the U.S. in the world is evolving, with some old enemies (Russia, China) and a lot of new circumstances (technology, climate crisis, pandemics). Let’s watch what Blinken does.
Wednesday, January 27
[Climate Crisis] Wednesday Was “Climate Day” for Biden’s Executive Orders – The lead order involved requiring the government to change its fleet of vehicles, all 750,000 of them, to zero-emission by 2035. Other orders covered halting oil drilling leases on federal land, and hosting an international climate change summit. Actually, the lengthy order is a comprehensive restatement of America’s position on climate change and its willingness to cooperate with the world. The ordering document is clearly the work of many months and many minds. It will face stiff opposition, but it seems to have caught the changing momentum and translated it into numerous specific actions. Overall, a remarkable document.
[Right-Wing Threat] Homeland Security Issues Major Warning of Right-Wing Extremist Violence – This is clearly no longer Trump’s Homeland Security. The warning concerned “ideologically-motivated violent extremists emboldened by the deadly January 6 Capitol attack.” The threat is expected to continue at least through the Senate impeachment trial.
[Right-Wing Threat] Michigan Gov. Whitmer Kidnap Plotter Turns State’s Evidence – Ty Garbin pled guilty to the plot and agreed to fully cooperate with the FBI in exchange for leniency. There are 14 others accused in the conspiracy to capture, try, and potentially kill the governor for her coronavirus lockdown policies.
Thursday, January 28
[Economy] New Unemployment Insurance Claims: 847,000 – This is 87,000 less than the previous week but still an exceedingly high number, far above the 330,000 norm.
[Affordable Care Act] Biden Issues Executive Orders to Shore up ACA – What Trump tried to tear down with executive orders, Biden intends to fix, at least temporarily, until legislation can deal with the underlying issues. For one thing, his orders reopen the ACA health insurance marketplace for three additional months, as federal agencies re-examine Trump era policies limiting access to Medicaid.
[Trump GOP] House Minority Leader Genuflects to Trump at Mar-a-Lago – After rashly intimating that Trump had something to do with the Capitol riot, “Trump bears responsibility,” Kevin McCarthy spent time in Florida atoning and discussing plans for the 2022 midterm elections. Given the ignominy, it was a clear sign of Trump’s puissance.
[Climate Change] GM Announces End of Manufacturing Gas-Powered Vehicles by 2035 – In a somewhat astonishing move, as one of the premier manufacturers, its shift to all-electric vehicles will influence the entire industry, probably tipping the balance toward production of carbon free vehicles. [Also see Jan. 27 item, “Climate Day,” supra.]
Friday, January 29
[Coronavirus] CDC Orders Mask-Wearing on Public Transportation – On the road to restoring its cred, the CDC followed Biden’s lead to beef up COVID-19 mitigation, this time by mandatory wearing of masks on planes, trains, ships, subways, ferries, buses, taxis, and ride-shares.
[Stock Market] Wall Street Falters Due to GameStop – In a Wall Street trader’s nightmare not worth explaining, scads of professional short-sellers lost their shirts to a collaboration of day traders over a worthless company, causing the stock market to drop 2-3%.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 26,512,193; Deaths: 447,459
The good news is that the Biden administration is putting into place a true national coronavirus pandemic plan. The bad news is that it must be put together almost from scratch and that we are in a deadly race of virus variants vs. vaccines. Time is of the essence, as lawyers like to say, but in this case if the new viruses, especially the South African variant, spread faster than we can vaccinate, losing the race means many more deaths. There is also the concern that some of the vaccines are not as effective against the mutant viruses, and may require tweaking or even reformulation. Unfortunately, there’s not enough information. We don’t even know how long the vaccines confer immunization, or whether they protect the individual but still allow transmission of the disease. Too many questions, too little time.
Constitutional, Political, Election Notes
The Senate trial: We have NOT been here before. There has never been a second impeachment trial of any president; so, while Republican obstructionism will sound familiar, and probably produce familiar acquittal results, the substance of the trial presents an unusual situation. For one thing, the Democrats are in control of the Senate and McConnell will not be staging the trial. For another, the substantive material of the impeachment has an unusual set of witnesses – every member of Congress, and millions of Americans who watched it on screen. Finally, whereas evidence in past impeachments was a handful of documents, a passel of statements, and some relatively esoteric constitutional issues, this one has hours of colorful, explicit, and disturbing recordings. It’s up to the Democrats to understand that this is a PR trial, not just a Senate trial, much less a real trial in a court of law – and to take advantage of that.
The censure option. Members of the Senate are drafting a potential censure of Trump for inciting and supporting insurrection. First impressions about this: one, it probably would have to be instead of a Senate trial; two, it could contain language from the 14th Amendment to prohibit Trump from holding any federal office; three, its effectiveness is legally problematic; four, it still requires 66 votes and though more Republicans might support it, it probably wouldn’t pass. With a very short timeline there doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm for censure.
Quote of the Week
The Senate is evenly divided even though Democratic members represent 41 million more people than Republicans. . . . [T]he G.O.P. has won the popular vote for president only once since 1988, and 2004 was an outlier influenced by the lingering rally-around-the-flag effects of 9/11.
Paul Krugman, “The G.O.P. Is in a Doom Loop of Bizarro,” The New York Times, 01/28/2021.
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